Part I: The Crown Equerry | Part II: An Accidental Queen | Part III: Just Claire | Part IV: Foal | Part V: A Deal | Part VI: Vibrations | Part VII: Magnolias | Part VIII: Schoolmates | Part IX: A Queen’s Speech | Part X: Rare | Part XI: Watched | Part XII: A Day’s Anticipation | Part XIII: The Location | Part XV: Motorcycle | Part XV: Cabin | Part XVI: Market | Part XVII: Stables | Part XVIII: Alarms | Part XIX: Visitor | Part XX: Cuffed |  Part XXI: A Woman’s Speech | Part XXII: The Harlot Queen


Her Royal Highness (H.R.H.)
Part XXIII: Rarer

Claire’s teenaged fingers had been nicotine yellow when the King – her uncle – told her that she needed to manage her reputation. A shamed and orphaned royal for whom money could no longer buy silence, Claire had been brought to London quietly after her boarding school declared no more. To prevent a scandal, a cover story had been constructed. She would never forget the disappointment in his voice when he explained, “Your future rides on it.” She had been different then – lashing out against loneliness and authority in the senseless, minor ways that seem significant only to a teenager. 

And while her indiscretions had been charming when there was still time for an heir – a real heir, her Uncle Lamb’s progeny – they were not when she was lined up to succeed him to the throne. At that time, her youthful dalliances had made her The Accidental Queen and The Party Queen. Newsink had made it so, and a nation had laughed, picked her apart. 

Now she was something different. Her new monicker, designated by a headline, had been brought to her attention just as Mrs. Fitz’s calming influence had taken hold, and she was quiet. As she finished straightening her jacket and pinning to its lapel the brooch her Uncle Lamb had given to her for her seventeenth birthday (“a hummingbird, a free spirit for my free spirit,” he explained), one of her staff entered her bedroom suite with the paper. 

 The Harlot Queen. Newsink again had made it so. 

“Ye dinna need to read that… that… rag,” Mrs. Fitz said, giving the newspaper’s bearer the kind of look that quite possibly could kill in an alternate dimension. Despite Mrs. Fitz’s firm protestations, Claire took the paper. She looked utterly happy in the photograph that they had chosen, and she recognized it from Frank’s private cache of holiday snapshots. He was holding her hand tight, half of his body out of the frame. Her hair was loose and she was wearing sunglasses, ones that did not really fit her and were constantly slipping down her nose. She remembered arguing with him endlessly on that holiday – nothing was ever quite right, really. Her eyes scanned over the article, picking up bland bits here and there about her ring, a biographical sketch and dashing, quite young portrait of the uniformed suspect – Colonel James Fraser, discredited war hero from a small town, about whom little was known save that he was never quite right after the war according to acquaintances. 

 “Came back from the war completely mad, but you canna blame the lad. Word is that they tore him up in that war camp – tore him up good, disfigured him. It doesna surprise me that the poor chap turned on the hand that fed him.” 

Claire’s stomach soured as her heart sank. 

This was what she had wanted to prevent.

“Leave then,” Fraser had said to her, his eyes flashing when she told him that she was going to take them public before someone else did.

Disfigured him. Completely mad.

She wished that she had a way to contact him. To have the time to reach out, to explain that she was doing this to make it better, to redirect the spotlight. He didn’t understand what it meant to be in the spotlight like this, to have millions of pairs of eyes scrutinizing, judging. Absently, she prayed that the first edition of this particular printing had not made it around the jail before he was whisked away. Perhaps he hadn’t even had an opportunity to see it. 

She kept skimming. Then, there in the center of it all, was a quote from Frank. It was a monologue transcribed as truth by a man with ambitions that were decidedly political, not as the ranting of a disgraced, disgruntled lover:

“It makes me worry about her health, really. She was erratic in the final days of our engagement before she gave that dreadful, meandering speech. She frequently slipped away to the stables, and I attributed it to the fact that she could not bear the weight of the crown that rested so easily atop the King’s head. However, now I fear that she was being manipulated by someone – or rather some scoundrel – on her staff. Groomed for him to accomplish some ends. Would I forgive her for what she has done for me? Of course. Do I have concerns about her judgment? I cannot answer that for a nation. However, I can pose an alternative question. Who among us would not have such concerns? This nation, this continent, has seen more than its fair share of what misplaced trust can bring.”

Claire did not taste bile or see red. Instead, she carefully folded the paper, set it on the side table, and stood. “Are we ready?” she called to Mrs. Fitz. When the woman nodded, Claire responded in kind with a tight little tilt of her head towards the newspaper. “Throw that in the fireplace. Find every copy. I do not want to see a single trace of the bloody thing when we are finished with this.” 

Again, Mrs. Fitz nodded. By the time the instruction was firmly given, Claire was already gone. One room over, she had taken a seat on the couch where she had delivered the first of her Christmas addresses to the empire for which she was Queen. She inspected her fingertips. They were pink, scrubbed, filed, and polished a her-nail-color-but-better neutral. 

 Claire swallowed, fixed her eyes on the cameraman, and nodded. 

7:58 a.m. 

 She felt as though her entire life was about to change, though she knew that it already had. 

 She turned her hands over, studied them. She had expected her palms to sweat, to go clammy, for her fingers to tremble. But she was dry, still. She laid them to rest on her thighs, crossed her legs at the ankle, watched the cameraman do some last-minute fussing with the lens on his equipment. When the lights clicked on, she didn’t even blink, just lifted her head. 

7:59 a.m. 

 She brushed a curl back, not out of nerves, but for the mere fact that it had been tickling her cheek. It had been a firm refusal when she declined some sort of helmeted, serious chignon. If she was going to expose herself on television, she figured she might as well really go for it. 

 8:00 a.m. 

 “Yer majesty, on three,” the cameraman said, his voice smooth. The countdown was hardly over when she started. 

 “On this day, I am taking the opportunity to speak to all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire, wherever they live. I speak to you today from my home in Edinburgh before I depart for the Highlands, which I have come to hold so dear. My priorities as Queen are to secure for my people the inalienable rights of health, happiness, security, and freedom. They have always been so, and they will always remain as such. It is from this important business that some seek to distract this great nation.” 

She paused, catching her breath for a beat.


 That headline. 

 The article.

She prayed that he had made it, that he was far from all of this. 

“I assure you that despite the cluckings of small men, I am well and truly in possession of all of my faculties. You see, some weeks ago, I made a decision. It was a the type of decision that was unheard of, not just for a queen, but for a woman. I decided that I would not put my happiness or myself last. In that vein, I ended my engagement to Frank Randall.” 

She paused a second time, fought the urge to wet her lips, and leaned forward. 

“I did so in the service of finding something rare. Based on the examples set for me by the King, my parents, and their parents, I knew that love was dear, but I had not experienced it. Never with Mr. Randall or any other man. But I have found that now. With a man – a solid one, someone captivatingly different, one who I was bound to through no particular effort or ingratiation on his part. When I met him, I felt a connection more profound, more fundamental than any I had ever felt.” 

She was beyond the point of no return, and she knew it. Fraser had taught her to save herself, not to need saving. Now, she would save him. 

“His name is Colonel James Fraser. He served this nation at a great personal sacrifice, he has served his Queen. He has no agenda other than to love me, and at a great personal cost. It has been at the cost of his privacy, his honor, and his dignity. And by loving me as he does, he has now been accused of doing something ugly, of being something ugly. Of being a thief who stole brazenly from the Crown. He stands accused of taking a ring that is dear to me and that is made of stones that were dear to my uncle and that have been in my family for as long as any historian can trace. He did not do it.” 

Having long forgotten the script, she swallowed, spoke from the heart. 

“While I was with him, I left the ring in a certain place where it was discovered not on Colonel Fraser, but someone related to him. Now, a horrible misunderstanding has caused an innocent man – Colonel Fraser – to be ripped away from his job and family, and to be put into an Edinburgh jail. While some seek to use the Crown for fame or glory, Colonel Fraser was prepared to forsake both, to sacrifice himself for me. Because he loves me. And because I love him – because what we have is rarer than the gold or gems he was wrongly accused of taking – I sit here now, speaking to you from the heart.  As Queen and as a woman.”

She could feel the twist in her stomach, the throb in that heart that produced the words her mouth spoke into the public space where their relationship now lived.

“Colonel James Fraser is a good man, better than the small, insignificant man who has attempted to smear him and to smear me. Do not harbor small-minded conclusions about Colonel James Fraser or the man he is.”

Enough. It was enough.

What was rare was sacred, private.  She was a Queen, but she was also Claire. She would never not be both.

And so she concluded, “Although I have found the great love of my life, I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service, and to the service of our nation. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to continue to share in it.”* 

 When the lights switched off, she rose. Her palms were still dry as she turned to Mrs. Fitz. 

 “Get him a message. I am going to our place. He will know.”

* the first sentence of the speech and this *’ed part were adapted from Queen Elizabeth’s 21st birthday speech, which you can read here, if you’re so inclined 

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